Published Feb 28, 2014

I want to go back to college

By Sally Worley

Executive sous chef Austina Smith

Eventually I may go back to earn an advanced degree, but for now I want to go back to enjoy cafeteria food. Last week Laura Krouse, Susan Jutz, Kate Edwards, Mark Rasmussen, Jason Grimm and I were led on a tour of Cornell College’s Dining Services by executive sous chef Austina Smith.

Bon Appetit Management Company’s CEO and co-founder Fedele Bauccio presented the keynote at Practical Farmers’ 2012 annual conference about the company’s leadership in providing sustainably-raised, healthy food to corporations, universities, museums, and specialty venues . Bon Appetit opened their first account in Iowa when they signed on to provide Cornell’s dining service summer of 2012, and the dining experience they offer is in stark contrast to the one I experienced in college.

Bon Appetit overhauled Cornell’s food service, and the facilities more resemble a restaurant than cafeteria. Down in the prep kitchen, gone is the small prep area catered to canned goods, processed foods, fryers and the token antique potato peeler. In its place are coolers full of fresh meats and seafood, vegetables and fruits and large areas where whole foods are cleaned and trimmed. All condiments, from salad dressings to barbecue sauces, are made from scratch.

A small canned goods area the size of a small bookshelf exists. Austina said that the canned goods area was more stocked on our February tour than it is during warmer months, because certain items are not available in the winter. Cookies, soups and sauces are made downstairs in the large kitchen; most other items are prepared upstairs at cooking stations in the food service area.

Bon Appetit operates Farm to Fork, purchasing and serving food from within 150 miles. This includes fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats and anything else they can find. Currently purchases are at 17% local, but they aim to increase to 28% local food purchases. Laura Krouse sold to Bon Appetit this last year, and was quite please with the relationship. They pay a price she’s happy with and take all she can provide them.

The cafeteria serves some fried food, but much less than in past days. The college recycles waste oil into biofuel for maintenance equipment, and the maintenance department laments the decrease in available biofuel.

Laura Krouse, Mt. Vernon farmer, sells produce to Bon Appetit

Laura Krouse, Mt. Vernon farmer, sells produce to Bon Appetit

Fried sides are available two days a week: tater tot Tuesday and French fry Friday. The serving area is sensory overload. Although the food is nutritious, the array of options could easily contribute to the renowned freshman 15. Food is clearly labeled vegan, vegetarian, made without gluten and farm to fork so people can easily select items that match their dietary preferences.

Available the day we were there: grilled chicken, grilled burgers from PFI member Mark Hulsebus, tater tots, a very large and colorful salad, sandwich and soup bar, pork cabbage stir fry and rice, chimichurri sauce with tortillas and beans, vegan tater tot nacho bar, wood-fired pizzas, Country View Dairy yogurt bar, cookies and more that I can’t remember. All made from scratch.

Bon Appetit halved the selection of pops being served, introduced homemade fruit-flavored waters and Fair Trade coffee.

If you are in Mt. Vernon, stop in and eat at the college. Laura says she eats there regularly when in town, and takes guests there because it’s so good. And it’s affordable. All you can eat for $6 (breakfast), $7 (lunch) or $8 (dinner).